Boston area fourth among 2012 Best Cities for Successful Aging

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By Brian Goslow

Mary Eliff, 68, loves living in the Boston area. Barely a week goes by that the Dorchester resident, who is semi-retired, isn’t at one of the many cultural opportunities the city has to offer.

(Photo: Mary Eliff with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione)

“I love the (Boston) Symphony (Orchestra),” Eliff said. “I go to the symphony rehearsals. They’re fascinating and they don’t cost much at all. I love the process as much as I love hearing the music.” Her musical tastes range from classical to cutting edge rock.

In recent months, she’s visited the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Harvard University’s Sackler Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. She regularly attends lectures at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and JFK Presidential Library.

“I was at Shakespeare on the Common last month,” Eliff said. “We were sitting in folding chairs. It’s free; you can give a donation.”

Eliff keeps fit by doing step aerobics three times a week and doing lots of walking around the UMass- Boston and JFK Library campus. “It’s about a mile and a half,” she said. “I like to get off the subway a stop or two early to walk.”

These kinds of opportunities were among the reasons the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area was ranked fourth — and was first for ages 80 and older and sixth for ages 65-79 — among the 2012 Best Cities for Successful Aging in a study released by the Milken Institute earlier this summer and made possible through ongoing financial sponsorship and substantive assistance from AARP.

“Few places are as innovative or offer as many opportunities for education and retraining as the Greater Boston area, home to more than 100 colleges and universities,” the study noted. “For culture vultures, the area is full of theaters, historic places, lively lectures and music venues.”

Housing, transportation and social engagement factors that create a safe, affordable and connected community for seniors, along with health care, crime rates, weather, economic and job conditions were among the 78 factors considered in creating the rankings.

In the “Nailed It” category, the Boston metro region is called “a Mecca for medical professionals” where “(doctors, physical therapists, nurses, psychologists and orthopedic surgeons are plentiful” and “fitness centers are readily available, and many walk to work, indicating a healthy lifestyle.”

On the negative side, things that cause “Big-city blues” and “Need Work” are: a high cost of living, due to housing prices; commuting times that aren’t for the faint of heart; assisted living facilities can be pricy; high taxes; and small businesses struggle.

High rental cost is why Eliff lives in Dorchester.  On the other hand, she loves the multicultural options nearby, especially the varieties of food found at area restaurants. “I love all of them, especially the Jamaican roti, Vietnamese noodles and Cape Verdean dishes,” she said.

The study defined successful aging in America as achieving these attributes:

•living in places that are safe, affordable and comfortable;

•being healthy and happy;

•being financially secure and part of an economy that enables opportunity and entrepreneurship;

•having living arrangements that suit our needs;

•having mobility and access to convenient transportation systems that get us where we want and need to go.

•being respected for our wisdom and experience;

•being physically, intellectually and culturally enriched; and

•being connected to our families, friends and communities.

Three other Massachusetts communities placed in the large metropolitan region category. Worcester scored 62nd — 77th in the 65-79 age range and 53rd for 80 and over living; Springfield 81st, 67th and 86th, respectively; and the Providence-New Bedford-Fall River region scored 66th, 78th and 77th.

In the Small Metro Rankings, Barnstable Town placed 51; 54 in 65-79 and 111 in 80+ while Pittsfield was ranked 155th, 179th and 164th.

The number one metropolitan area in the survey was Provo, Utah. Among the qualities that earned it top marks is the presence of Brigham Young University and a pro-business environment. “It also boasts a low incidence of chronic disease, thanks to healthy lifestyles and a focus on wellness,” the report stated. “Provo is an excellent location for seniors who are relocating or hoping to age in place, with safety, security, high community engagement, quality health care, a healthy lifestyle and opportunities for second careers and entrepreneurship.”